Youth Is a Drug, Nostalgia Is Relapse

Lady Bird Shows the Gross Beauty of Molting


I was rather thoughtfully asked by a woman how I could possibly have anything interesting to say about Lady Bird. Her intent wasn’t to explicitly indict the very real and shitty patriarchal stranglehold of film criticism in general or to insult me in specific. She just sorta wondered how a nearly-40-year-old dude could possibly hear all the notes in writer/director Greta Gerwig’s symphony about becoming a woman.

She’s right. I can’t.

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Entranced though I may be by the melody, I can’t know the songs by heart because this is just a ditty about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) becoming an adult woman and the collision course that sets her on with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), friends and lovers. And yet, opting out of reviewing Lady Bird altogether seemed gross too. It felt like saying “only ladies should watch the lady movie,” a sentiment as wrongheaded as me trying to offer some kind of authoritative stance. So before I get into the few meager thoughts I’d like to share, let me point you to some exceptional words by some brilliant women about this singularly special film.

Alexandra Macaaron’s piece at Women’s Voices for Change covers the background and basics quite well, if you’re looking for a quality overview. Kathryn Lindsay’s review/conversation with her mother about Lady Bird at Refinery 29 is one of the most uniquely insightful bits of film criticism I’ve read in ages, mirroring the form and function of the movie itself. And perhaps most significant of all, Meghan Gilligan’s review at Another Gaze eloquently and precisely describes Lady Bird’s “universal emotional resonance” while obliterating the infantilizing comments Gerwig has received about the semi-autobiographical nature of the film. How could you not admire the shit out of a review that points out how “This criticism is typically reserved for female writers and filmmakers: a double standard implying that women who tell personal stories do so out of a creative inability to invent worlds outside of their own.” Appropriately while reviewing a film that does the same, Gilligan spits the truth beautifully and powerfully as hell. There are more—many, many more. Go read reviews by women about Lady Bird and then read those critics from now on. Find a favorite and bookmark them.

For whatever it’s worth, what struck me most about the film was Gerwig’s ability to capture the manic nature of youth. As Ronan brilliantly pinballs from hellish pits of sorrow to frenzied heights of euphoria, the movie spells out the blatant insanity of youth. Lady Bird exposes the intoxication with the hallucinatory cocktail of hormones processed by a brain without the experience to sort them. The teenage years are a quasi-addicted state, with adulthood as a sobering rehabilitation. Nostalgia is the yearning for a fix that time has stripped of its side effects in our memories. This is the “universal emotional resonance” Gilligan describes, that Gerwig mastered in her first effort and the reason, in small part, that Lady Bird is an instant classic.

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Grade = A


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